Posted by: jsmcfadden | October 4, 2009

Knowing You Have a Mind

Didn’t somebody say that the surest way to know you have a mind is to change it? Am I remembering a Taylor Mali poem?

What have you changed your mind about lately? I’ve been struck in the last few days again how much my mind has changed about several things over the last …  years.

Like this: I used to think that nail polish was stupid. OK, I’ll grant you that is relatively inconsequential.

How’s this: I used to think that parenting a newborn was the most stressful kind of parenting.

Even longer ago than I actually held those ideas, though, I used to think that people who joined the military — or even the police — were twisted somehow. How could they like guns? How could they study war and violence and plan on using it against others?

Every new military action that the nation’s armed forces stepped into, I would have to consider the question again: what kind of person chooses these kinds of careers? I couldn’t find a satisfactory answer.  But over the last few years, I’ve changed my mind about this. That’s because I’ve known a dozen young people who have joined the military, and more than a handful more who are serving in police departments or training to do that.

Some of these guys and girls have wanted benefits that come to those who have served in this way. Some of them have joined because their families honor the tradition of military service, and they want to continue that tradition. But there are others for whom those motives are not central. There are others who just have an urge to protect others and to serve their country. 

Many of these young people found a cause in responding to the 9/11 attacks. But that motivation doesn’t stick long enough to get through the crucible. I think it’s honor that calls them. And that’s a motive as idealistic and rare as chivalric romanticism. But it’s not obsolete. And it isn’t romantic dreams of glory; it’s not Henry Fleming. It’s genuine. And it’s noble.

So I want to say thank you to those former students who have served and are serving. Thank you for showing me it was time to change my mind.


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